"A perfect character is not engaging. Character transformation can be one of the most powerful effects in any story." Donald Maass
I’ve never written about perfect characters. I'm not sure anyone would want to read about them. But I have written about one who thought she was perfect, for her to discover en route she definitely wasn't. For me as a reader, the draw of the genre I write in (Commercial Women’s Fiction) is the character transformation that unfolds in the telling of an engaging story. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet, I’ve tried it twice and though novel two has not bitten the dust – far from it – I’m about to start writing novel three and felt it was time for a change in ‘how’ I approached it.
For a start, I already have an outline. Yep! Me, a prize ‘pantser’, has a plot! (For those of you who don't know, a pantser writes by the 'seat of their pants,' whilst a plotter ,er, plots.)
And I don’t only have a plot (fanfare and drum roll please...) I also have a check list thingy (see below) In my new found organised non pantsy mode, the list came first. It helped create character profiles, the characters whose emotional journeys helped form the plot and move the story forward.
1. Who is your reader? Where and how will they read this book?
2. What’s the title? Have one – even if it changes.
3. Themes? Are they hooky? E.G. Obsession, betrayal, life after death.
4. Who is your protagonist? What motivates her and what is she risking?
5. Is there an antagonist? How is he/she opposed to the protagonist?
6. KNOW your mc. Walk in her shoes...What does she look like? Does she have habits? What does she eat/drink? Does she have pets? Does she own something special/sentimental to her? Where does she live? What’s her job? Does she like it/hate it?
Is she strong/weak/overbearing/confident/secretive/sad? Who are her friends?
7. Place her in jeopardy! Introduce struggle, inner conflict, encourage change by overcoming obstacles. At some point make her hit rock bottom before the rise again.
8. Does she have a clear arc?
9. Have a 'shout line' e.g ‘Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned’
I’m looking forward to taking these people on their journey. I’m looking forward to that ‘splurge’ of a first draft. I’m hoping with this approach, it will provide a strong foundation (character and plot wise) which in theory should make the first draft flow easier, and may even mean that the inevitable EDIT won't have to be such a chore. Watch this space because that is a whole other blog post and if Ernest Hemingway is to be believed, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
But I’m brave enough to believe that this first draft, yet to be written, but planned (while still allowing room for sporadic ‘pantser activity’) may just be less **** than other ones I’ve written in the past. Character and plot. Character and plot. See? It rolls off the tongue. Now all I have to do is to get them to play nice and hold hands for about three hundred and ninety pages.